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Opinion: Lost in translation - when players' Irish names are changed in match reports

‘It is absolutely 100% about standing up to an attitude that seeks to embarrass Irish language speakers.’

One Coláiste Eoin player.
One Coláiste Eoin player.
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IT WAS EARLIER yesterday morning and the text read loud and clear. “Irish Times tar éis ainmneacha Choláiste Eoin a aistriú go béarla…”

The text was from my brother and like me he is a former pupil of Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, the Irish language secondary school.

The text went on some more but the gist of it being that a colleague of his, and parent of one of the current pupils in Coláiste Eoin, had spotted that the write up in the sports supplement which should have referred to her son, his team-mates and his school referred to another team altogether.

The school name was right. The opposition was right. The final score was right; a two-point win for Kilkenny CBS.  Yet this was not the Coláiste Eoin team that had left Stillorgan for an away game in Clonad.

Instead of Dara Ó Gallchobhair, it read Dara Gallagher. Colm O’Neill I presume must have referred to Colm Ó Néill. I could go on but I think you can probably see where I am going. One to 15 all had very different names to the official team list as provided to the matchday referee and to media.

I was asked to look into it and it wasn’t long before I spotted similar pieces in other publications so it was safe to assume that this was a local journalist issuing a generic article to all national papers.

It brought me back. In 1998 as a student in Coláiste Eoin, the school was asked to provide our names in English ahead of an All-Ireland colleges semi-final. We refused to do so. This was our starting 15. These are our names.

The repercussions were not significant but rather than being a nice memento to keep, the matchday programme of that day is but a token of the win over Coláiste Chríost Rí. No team photo. No introduction from local journalists like Niall Scully or Kevin Nolan outlining our journey to date. We were ignored apart from the team sheet but that was enough for us. Twenty eight names agus gach ceann as gaeilge.

I felt so strongly about this back then that I wrote to The Irish Times and my letter was duly printed. Would you ask for an English translation of Francois Mitterand I asked? Or Nelson Mandela? Clearly some would back then and still would to this day.

This is not my battle though and it is for Coláiste Eoin themselves, for the parents, for the players to decide what they do and what course of action, if any, they take with the journalist in question.

I am not sure what they can do to be honest or what recourse is even available to them. Sure all he did was change some names around when the Coláiste Eoin trainer wouldn’t play ball with him. They’re only kids anyway. But names all in Irish. Lovely. Sure they didn’t even win. Who are Kilkenny CBS up against next? No one will notice. Tomorrow’s chipper paper and all that jazz.

Cos eile

So instead I will let my own mind wander.

On Saturday evening a young Dublin footballer started off on a hopefully long and successful journey. Fresh out of the minor set up, he was given his first Allianz League start. His name is Emmet Ó Conghaile.

Dave McIntyre the Setanta Sports commentator couldn’t avoid him, he was in midfield after all, and time and time again he referred to him as Ó Conghaile. Not once was he referred to as Connolly. Beside Ó Conghaile was Michael Darragh McAuley. Not once did McIntyre refer to him as MacAmhlaidh.

In Wexford one of the rising stars in both codes is Lee Chin. Had Lee Chin been playing for Coláiste Eoin against Kilkenny CBS the other day, what would the journalist in question do then? Would he have also translated his name and if he had what would be the reaction of Chin, of the Wexford County Board and of the public in general?

I see no grey areas here.

Some Irish speaking analysts be they on TG4 or on Raidió na Gaeltachta still refer to players not by their actual names, but by the names they believe they should have if we lived in an Irish speaking utopia. Mo Farah will always be Mo Farah and Wayne Rooney will always be Wayne Rooney in their reporting but Henry Shefflin suddenly becomes Anraí Mac Siofláin – or words to that effect.

Cuir an bhróig ar an cos eile, le bhur dtoil.

I feel as strongly about this issue today as I did in 1998 and my emotions are the same but at least in 1998 we had the chance to take a stand. These lads did not. Your name and surname is more than just a title. It can often mean something. It can be a name handed down through the generations, a tip of the hat towards a lost friend, sibling or parent.

This isn’t about being an Irish language speaker nor am I on another gaeilgeoir rant. It is however absolutely 100% about standing up to an attitude that seeks to embarrass Irish language speakers into turning their back on the language.

We make many choices in our lives based on the language that we love and a hope that it can continue and God forbid someday thrive. Regardless of our interest in the Irish language or otherwise, our names are not part of that decision making process. That decision was made for us long ago.

Whether I am Ciarán Kilkenny, a proud and passionate Castleknock and Dublin player and a fluent Irish speaker. Or I am Emmet Ó Conghaile, a Lucan Sarsfields man and a former underage star footballer and hurler. It is still Kilkenny. It is still Ó Conghaile. Regardless of the cúpla focal, a name is a name.

And who are any of us to say otherwise?

Marcus Ó Buachalla works in the sports and sponsorship division in Pembroke Communications, a PR agency based in Dublin.

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About the author:

Marcus Ó Buachalla

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